Richard Kingston

Success at the Skunkworks

Posted Jul 30, 2018

On Thursday last week, the Barnsley Skunkworks group spent seven solid hours, designing, making and prototyping down at the Barnsley Digital Media Centre into which we took soldering irons, glue guns, electrical components, laptops, eInk screens, Wi-Fi microcontrollers, batteries, and a whole host of other bits and pieces that would be too long to list.

Boxes of electronic components spread across a desk

Given the number of attendees, we decided to focus our efforts on two key projects that we’d narrowed down from a longer list of nine. We’ll work on the other seven at future sessions and I’ll blog specifically about the two we picked up as they progress further, but here’s how the day broke down:

  • 09:00 to 09:30 - we set up the room and our equipment
  • 09:30 to 10:00 - we discussed the issues and made a plan
  • 10:00 to 11:00 - we installed software, drivers and databases
  • 11:00 to 11:15 - we partook in some really nice coffee
  • 11:15 to 12:30 - we breadboarded circuitry and hardware
  • 12:30 to 13:00 - we ate as we were hungry by now
  • 13:00 to 15:00 - we perfected the circuitry and soldered v1
  • 15:00 to 16:00 - we improved the design and built v2
  • 16:00 to 17:00 - we polished v2 into a casing for use

While a little rough around the edges (which is OK at this point), functions perfectly whether its plugged in or running from a battery pack. Here we had it plugged in and it’s succesfully reading values from a database and indicating a “success” status with the green light.

Wemos D1 Mini with a soldered shield on top, seated in a rough case made from an old solar lamp

We fashioned a case from an old garden solar light that one of us had hanging around and fit the components inside! Here it is with a piece of cardboard on top which utlimately will be a label with markers to highlight what the lights mean and what the buttons do.

Wemos D1 Mini with the lid of the solar case in place

We brought it into work the following day and gave Dave (our Head of Service) a sneak preview. His reaction was fantastic and he set us a fresh challenge to build several more, quickly, so that we can start to show them around and demonstrate a proof of concept with them. More on that later.

We’ve therefore planned in a further hack-day on August 9th to build those up. We have more chipsets on order that should arrive this week in plenty of time, along with USB Micro-B power cables, plugs and shields that we can solder up. The software is also being perfected day by day and we’ve drafted in a developer to help us put together one of the key features that day.

I’ll blog more after the 9th with more details.